Blocked.

image

I don’t know if other writers do this but every time I post a blog post I have this paralysing fear I will never be able to write anything ever again. It’s a crushing pressure. What if that’s it? What if no words ever come to me again? What if this time next week I’m sitting here staring at the blank screen forced to make the blogging version of small talk and ask how the weather is at your place?

I have the same fear every time I’m about to do a shoot. For a few seconds just after a client has arrived and just before I lift the viewfinder to my eye? Every pose I have ever done immediately leaves my head and for just those interminable seconds I’m sure I’m going to stand there dumb before them while they exchange awkward glances and I have to confess I have no idea what I’m doing. “Terribly sorry, guys. I’m a fake. I actually have no idea what I’m doing here. Best we all go home, hey? Haha.” Then the camera is up at my face and I slip back into my role and can direct. But for a few seconds there…my god. Terrifying.

It use to bother me so much, the performance paralysis, that I would do bad sketches and little notes to myself prior to a shoot so I could refer to it if I freaked out. I suppose it was a kind of cheat sheet and eventually I finessed it so I would plan the shoot on the iPad with a collection of images from previous shoots and called it a “Look Book” (industry term) which sounds infinitely better than, “Collection of cheats in case I get Shoot Amnesia.” I suppose it’s the photographer version of stage fright.

Anyway, I have this same fear every time I sit to write something even though I tell myself encouraging words like, “Writing is like building muscles, you have to use them or you lose them. This is like running laps.” And, “It doesn’t matter if it sucks. It’s the act that is important. Not whether you win or lose but how you play the game.” Yadda yadda. I wonder if painters get paralysis when they stare at a blank canvas? If potters ever fear the clay? If all writer’s sometimes stare at a blank sheet of paper and it looks like more of a threat than an invitation?

In other news…I have writer’s block.

The Artist.

During this lull in my life where I struggle with both direction and simple things like, you know, getting out the door I have been taking on editing work for other photographers. I love this because it’s a way to keep my hand in the business while not having to deal with the outside world. The photos arrive to me and I quietly spend the days colour correcting, straightening, removing blemishes, adjusting contrast. It’s meditative work. It allows my mind to wander while my eyes do their job. I also discovered I feel better at the end of the day because I can flick through the images and see I have completed a task.

And I learned something about myself. I was a good photographer. I was good. I was an artist. But I was never a businesswoman. The business side of things confounded me. I didn’t know how to sell myself because every image I took I poured a little of myself into and I didn’t know how to say to people, “You’re paying me because I am worth this.” It went against my nature.

I never told people this but the day I gave up weddings was because a client came back to me and said she wasn’t happy. I had had a couple of portrait clients do that before and I would always offer a reshoot. We would do it again and piece together a gallery from both sessions. But it was never my fault before, it was always something like the baby was fussy that day and the mum really wanted smiling images. Or I suggested an outdoor shoot and mum wanted studio and then changed her mind after the session. And the beauty of portraits was we COULD redo. Weddings are kind of a one shot deal. This wedding – it was fine. During family formals – in the midday sun on a beach, no less – the bride was getting anxious for them to be over. She was frustrated because her aunt was insisting on different groupings that the bride and groom hadn’t put on the list and she turned to me and said, “Just shoot them, it doesn’t matter. I just want her to shut up. I don’t really care.” I mentioned moving to a different location where the sun was less offensive, I was patient. In the end the shots were taken, occasionally not every person was looking at the camera. A child might be looking at his mother for example. To me – these were not flaws. This was life. I shot some beautiful images of the bridal party. Halfway through reception they asked me to stay an extra two hours and said they would pay me extra. I was exhausted by this point, but agreed and said not to worry about additional payment.

I delivered the gallery and the bride picked her shots and seemed pleased. A couple of weeks later the mother of the bride sent me a message with an attached image of a random wedding shot by her relative and said, “This is how you take real wedding photos.” The image received was standard amateur work. It was not technically correct and it was very average. I spent a long time looking at that image wondering what she was talking about. And then I realised she was meaning it as a stab at me. “See this guy who is my relative – he is so much better than you. You’re a fraud.”

I wrote her a response outlining that I was an accredited photographer with a well respected association in Australia, the closest thing we had to a governing body. That my work had been assessed by them as of a professional standard. That I did a perfectly acceptable professional job on her daughters images. Okay, maybe at the end I may have thrown in, “I wonder if he has been similarly assessed?” Whatever. I was salty.

The bride told me after she received the images she was pretty disappointed that she thought during family formals I would yell out “one, two, three, smile!” So they would know I was taking the picture. Because apparently me standing in front of them with a camera shouting, “Eyes over here!” And clicking furiously wasn’t a good indication.

Oh man. I KNEW I did nothing wrong that day. I knew the photos were good. But it devastated me. I just didn’t have enough confidence in myself to deal with that. I shot about three weddings after that one, the tail end of my booked sessions. (You best believe I shouted ‘one, two, three, smile!’ just in case though). And then I just packed up that part of my work. Nope. No more.

It was the artist in me that threw in the towel. Because this wasn’t just a job. This was myself. When they said, “I don’t like this”, it felt like someone saying, “I don’t like you.” If I had been a better business woman I probably would have rolled with it, picked up, moved on. Kicked ass. But I didn’t because the artist doesn’t know how. The artist creates because they must. It’s a drive, a force, a muse. I don’t create to make money, I never did.

I was a bad businesswoman. But I was a damn good photographer. I know that now.

image

Unexpected.

I read a study about sex. The idea was the more sex you had, the more sex you wanted.

I guess shooting is similar. The more I shoot the more I want to. The catch is, it has to be good. A bad shoot can bring me low for days, a good shoot gives me a rush that makes me want to do it again. Maybe it’s more like drugs. I don’t know. It definitely improves my mood when it works. Some shoots never work despite planning it for ages. It just doesn’t translate. Oddly, my best shoots have been virtually spur of the moment with little planning. I don’t like to think about it.

I sell some of my images through Getty, only of myself or the kids – basically images that would just be sitting on my hard drive doing nothing so I figure if they’re just doing nothing they may as well be earning me some money every now and then. The best seller? It’s a photo of me that you can only see my legs on and I’m holding a bunch of balloons. I took it spur of the moment one year on B’s birthday. I was putting together all these helium balloons for her party and decided to quickly set up the camera, snapped a shot and gave it a slap up edit.

image

I didn’t even have a backdrop. I’m standing between less than a metre of space between two doors that I edited out. When it sells it gives you the name of the company, sometimes you can find the image through reverse Google search. It has been bought by Samsung, by a French magazine, it’s on a German book cover… One of the quickest spur of the moment images I ever took. It’s funny how that happens.

What I discovered about myself recently though is that while I consider myself a portrait photographer, I don’t really shoot people. I shoot landscapes or props that happen to feature people. It’s why I can’t do headshots. People just aren’t the sole feature of my photographs. It’s weird how it has taken me almost 8 years to figure that out.

After it rained last time I decided to do a series with my girls. Different locations, nature, same white dress….

image

I took J out spur of the moment the week after I shot B with S and B to help me. To be honest, this was not really anything like I envisioned.

image

The favourite shot of mine was impromptu, I was busy piling dead leaves around J while she lay on the ground and this sprig of green leaves kept getting in the way. It was so ALIVE and vibrant that it sat in complete contrast to the muted browns, the dead and dying all around. I placed one over J’s heart.

image

Hope.

The best ones are the ones you don’t know you’re going to take.

image

 

Rain.

The day it rained a little I had things to do. I wanted to wash some clothes, clean the house and do the groceries. But I kept thinking about my camera. I stood in front of the kitchen table I was clearing while a couple of the kids were drawing in front of me. J looks up from her phone on the couch, “Are you okay?” she asks, “You look deep in thought.”
“I have an idea forming,” I answered slowly.
I turn to B in front of me, “Can you do your make up? I’m sorry. You’re going to get wet. And I need the kitchen chair.”
J, B and S all look at me wearing identical expressions of bewilderment.
“Why?” B asked, “It’s cold!”
“It will only be for a second. I need a photo.”

J asks to do B’s make up and S gets excited because in the six months she has been living with us I haven’t shot a thing. She can’t wait to see a shoot.

Twenty minutes later I’m going out the door. I’m wearing jeans and a plaid shirt that’s old and really shouldn’t be seen in public. My hair isn’t done. My phone needs charging. The clothes need washing. The floors were half swept.

I drive with purpose despite the fact I haven’t shot at this location in at least 7 years. I have no idea what I’ll find. It might rain. It’s midday. What am I doing?

I lie on a towel on the banks of the creek and get wet anyway. I pull up my jeans and wade into the water, mud between my toes and the stones slipping. Cars drive past honking their horns and I don’t care because there is only me and the viewfinder and a subject and everything else falls away.

image

Every shutter click I know is perfect. I’ll barely need to touch these in post.

image

I line up the banks so it’s straight, I expose on instinct.

image

Muscle memory.

Finally I’m ready for the last shot. I know it won’t be perfect. I know it won’t be exactly what I have in my head. But I need to shoot it anyway or I will think about it all night. “One, two, three…fall.”

Submerged.

image

 

Spark.

Your fingers pull at the threads of my soul.  They coax words from me like coddling flames from dusty coals.  I thought I was ashes and dust. A memory of a fire long burnt out.  But the words pour from my veins.  I write on slips of paper, in coffee stained notebooks.  I write on the wind and sky.  I write.  A flame flickers to life.  The words weaving the tapestry of our love.  The fire dances.  And I write.  And I write.